The 2020 Remnants season

Report by Daniel Mortlock:

Even with the first fixture still more than a month away, it was already clear that the 2020 Remnants season was to be the most extraordinary in the club's 40-year history. The worldwide spread of the coronavirus had an impact on all aspects of life, and friendly evening cricket was not immune. There are many timelines detailing the spread of the disease and its global impact; this is the story of its progress from the Remnants-centric point of view:

Monday, March 9:
The first clue of what was to come was the throw-away line in the club-wide reminder e-mail for the AGM that "The coronavirus will be widespread in England by the start of the cricket season, so we will probably need to make some adjustments (e.g., regarding shaking hands, using hand sanitiser, etc.)." Very much a "keep calm and carry on" model - seems rather quaint looking back.

Tuesday, March 10:
The main AOB item at the AGM was the coronavirus, which the minutes note "could well be at its height as the season starts". The expectation was that guidance from some combination of the Government, the ECB, the CCA and Fitzwilliam College would determine "the conditions under which fixtures are to go ahead", although it was implicit in that phrasing that they we'd be able to play in some form.

Wednesday, March 18:
The real "before and after" moment was this message from the ECB stating that "it is with sadness and reluctance that we recommend that all forms of recreational cricket are for now suspended." Even though the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK at the time was "only" in the hundreds, the message wasn't a surprise to most of us, especially those who listened in maths lessons when exponential growth was covered. Indeed, most responses to the club-wide e-mail announcing the effective cancellation of the cricket season were along the resigned lines that this was sad but necessary . . . although there were also some dissenting responses such as "Over-reaction?? Premature?", "FFS" and "Collective hysteria."

Thursday, March 19:
The potential loss of the Remnants cricket season was today put in perspective by the actual loss of the club's founder: Geoff Hales died suddenly and unexpectedly this morning. (No, it wasn't Covid-19 - and it presumably wasn't an over-reaction to the cancellation of the season either.) A flood of tributes followed from current and past Remnants members - and players from other clubs - but of course a proper celebration of Geoff's cricketing life will, like cricket, have to wait.

Saturday, March 21:
Depressing "season cancelled until further notice" messages went out to all the opposition organisers, albeit with a desperately defiant statement that "the fixtures remain in place should the situation change". This, like the message to the club, mainly induced resigned agreement, although one team's organiser was considerably more bullish (if also perhaps a tad optimistic): "Our policy is to follow official Public Health England advice, which is that non-contact outdoor sports such as cricket [...] remain safe to play provided sensible precautions are taken. So [...] we hope to play our full complement of games this summer." Just how over-optimistic this was became apparent two days later . . .

Monday, March 23:
Twenty seven million people watched as Boris Johnson just about managed to be genuinely serious as he finally imposed an effective lock-down on the entire country. This time the message from the Government was crystal clear: "Don't leave your homes." Although this rule was nominally in place for only three weeks (which would still stop short of hitting the first scheduled Remnants game, on April 29), nobody really believed this situation wouldn't persist for much longer. That said, our last Fitz ground booking, on August 26, is still more than four months away, and a lot can happen in that time - four months ago the human coronavirus didn't even exist . . .

Wednesday, April 29:
Our first scheduled fixture came and went without much comment - the cancellation that came to pass today had already happened a month ago in everyone's minds.

Tuesday, June 23:
With the announcement of the lifting of various restrictions on activities pretty clearly more dangerous than cricket (at least from a Covid-19 point of view), it was understandable that people wanted to know why recreational cricket would still be banned. Conservative MP Greg Clark took this to the Prime Minister directly and received the vague, unconvincing and disingenuous answer that "The problem with cricket as everybody understands [it] is that the ball is a natural vector of disease, potentially at any rate." While it's far from surprising that Boris Johnson offered bluster in place of a serious assessment, this was one of his more moronic lies, given that tennis (with its fluffier, and hence surely more dangerous, balls) had resumed some weeks earlier, and the semi-contact sport of basketball was allowed to resume.

Friday, July 3:
With further relaxations - most notably pubs, due to open tomorrow - imminent, the question about why recreational cricket continued to be banned was once again put to Boris Johnson, this time by the wonderfully-named Nick Ferrari on LBC Radio. Boris inevitably contradicted his previous nonsense answer, stating that "the risk is not so much the ball, although that may be a factor", instead choosing to pivot to two far less essential factors, asserting that "it's the teas, it's the changing rooms and so on and so forth" and then, perhaps realising he hadn't been sufficienly vauge, added "There are other factors involved that generate proximity which you might not get in a game of tennis." Twitter and other longer-form media then then of course exploded with what amounted to the same response Remnants would have given: we don't need to have food; we can arrive and leave the ground in our whites; we just want to play cricket.

Friday, July 3:
Later in the day Boris Johnson fronted the coronavirus briefing (at which the lecturns still convey the nonsensical instructions to "STAY ALERT", "CONTROL THE VIRUS" and "SAVE LIVES") and made this eloquent and carefully-worded statement regarding cricket: "Ah, I just want to be clear I, er, I um wanted-having been stumped on the radio this morning ah, er, on that point on the science again, and being asked which was the exact vector er er of the disease, I sought aaahhh scientific advice and medical opinion and the third umpire has been invoked. And, ah, what I can say is that, ah, we do want to work as fast as possible ah to get cricket back and, ah, we will be publishing guidelines in the next few days, ah, so that cricket can to resume, ah, in time for next weekend, or cricket can resume next weekend. I think that is ah, er, ah, what we're able to say today.'' A particularly bumbling statement, even for Boris; but, even more surprisingly, it was actually substantive: club cricket could go ahead from next weekend! This suggested that the Remnants season could, at least in principle, begin on Tuesday, July 14, although in practice there would have to some careful thought about how this could be done safely, presumably following the publication of the promised ECB guidelines.

Wednesday, July 15:
As of (just after) 6pm, when Joe White sent down the first ball of the match against Fen Ditton, there was a Remnants cricket season. Even one match feels very different from none . . .

Looking back on the 2020 cricket season, it's surprising how normal the part of it that went ahead was - albeit massively abbreviated, with just 11 completed games as compared to the averge of 30-odd for the last few years. Given the above, just getting some cricket was fantastic, and the fact that our sport is apparently safe - certainly there have been no publicised reports of Covid-19 outbreaks traced to cricket matches - was a bonus, not least because it gives confidence we'll get a proper season next year. Indeed, in some sense the biggest change this year is that we kept losing, winning just two of our eleven external games, easily our worst ever season result.